Coddling the Jackals at Bard College

December 23, 2019 | Ruth R. Wisse
About the author: Ruth R. Wisse is a research professor at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund. Her most recent book is No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (2013, paperback 2015).

Asked to participate in a panel discussion at Bard College—part of a two-day conference on “racism and anti-Semitism”—Ruth R. Wisse found herself facing an all-too-typical scene as a group of anti-Semitic students, members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), tried (unsuccessfully) to disrupt her talk by standing between her and the audience, backs to the speakers. University faculty and administrators, in Wisse’s evaluation, worsened the situation with their permissive policies, their insistence on whisking her away immediately after the panel to prevent further confrontations with students, and even their attempts to defend her after the fact:

“It is our job as professors to teach students how to think, not what to think.” “Rather than building walls, we are proud to create an open forum where people with different opinions can come together to stop and think.” These are some of the conclusions that the kindly Professor Samantha Hill, [in an article on the subject], draws from the Bard incident, perhaps intending to extend even greater protection to “protesters” than the college already has in place. Had she shown more faith in their ability to think, she might have set up a meeting between me and the protesters, insisting that so-called students have the courage to face me with their arguments. Showing me their backsides merely proved what they are substituting for brains.

The indulgence of this anti-intellectualism was the first of Bard’s mistakes. Honest students and teachers will always find their way to one another, but colleges that replace the teachings of our civilization with academic tasting stations are no longer engaged in higher education. Moreover, the students were almost certainly steered to SJP and sicced on me by faculty ideologues who look for converts rather than truth.

The conveners [of the conference] deserve credit for addressing anti-Semitism in the current academic climate, but the disrupters, in their way, inadvertently exposed problems with the conference that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. . . . Linking racism and anti-Semitism in the conference title made it impossible to address the way the claim of “racism” was being weaponized by Arab-Muslim groups and the post-Soviet left to promote anti-Jewish aggression.

To subsume anti-Jewish politics under another category like racism was to prevent action against it. The conference made no attempt to identify, much less investigate, the ideological warfare that Arab propagandists, Islamists, Middle East scholars, radical leftists, intersectionality activists, and other aggressors are waging against Israel and the Western democracies for which Israel is a stand-in. In fact, if the conveners thought they might get away with treating anti-Semitism in today’s college climate by combining it with racism, the grievance groups had seen right through the ruse and organized their protest against the only session devoted to exposing them.

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